Developing a Support Network for Grass Based Livestock Producers

Final Report for LNE04-210

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $90,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $19,778.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Diane Schivera
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
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Project Information

Summary:

This project’s major target was to develop a support network for grass based livestock farmers in Maine. Maine Grass Farmers Network (MGFN) is the result. This network facilitates the dissemination of information regarding pasture and forage production and use. It has been helping in the initiation of research that will be valuable to the farmers and will be a conduit for the results between Cooperative Extension Educators, University staff, farmer consultants/leaders, food scientists, various NGO livestock professionals, veterinarians, feed and fencing dealers and livestock farmers.

MGFN has been running pasture walks each season from 2004 onward. The number of walks has varied from 4 to 12 each year, as we tried to gauge audience response. Winter seminars were also offered. One topic was presented at three or four different sites each year. It was an attempt to establish groups in the local communities.

Conferences were held each year with a keynote and many farmers and professionals as speakers.
2004 at Pineland farms, New Gloucester. Keynotes; Sarah Flack and Gwyneth Harris Vermont Grass Farmers Association.
2005 at MOFGA’s Common Ground, Unity. Keynotes; Temple Grandin and Ridge Shinn.
2006 at Kennebec Valley Community College, Fairfield. Keynote; Jerry Brunetti. Co-Sponsored by the Western Mountain Alliance’s Eat Smart Eat Local Campaign.
2007 at Kennebec Valley Community College, Fairfield. Keynote; Darrell Emmick
MGFN participated in Maine’s Agricultural Trade Show each year with a display table and presentations. It also had a table at the annual: Fiber Frolic, New England Livestock Expo, the Beef Conference, MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair and Maine’s Ag Day at the State House.

Three newsletters per year were composed and sent to members. Until 2008, member was defined as anyone who signed up, no fee was required.

A producer directory was created with any farmer that wished to be included. The last total was 33 farms. Each entry contained contact information, a list of products, information on production methods and farming practices and various pictures. It was printed and included on the website.

The web site, http://www.umaine.edu/umext/mgfn/ was established and maintained by Waldo County Cooperative Extension office. Also emails from the farmer coordinator Paula Roberts were sent containing many updates, reminders and additional information.

Introduction:

Growing grass in Maine takes advantage of its short growing season and cool, wet climate, which is more advantageous for sod than cultivated crops. Keeping land in sod reduces soil erosion, water runoff, and fresh water contamination from nutrient runoff. Land kept in sod is also an excellent way to retain soil moisture, improve soil health (both nutrients and soil life), builds organic matter either as permanent pasture or as part of a crop rotation and contributes to carbon sequestration. Grass farming and pasture-raised livestock use our pasture lands effectively, while improving animal health, product quality and market advantage. Pasture-raised milk, meat, poultry, and eggs have higher nutritional content, higher market prices, are good for the environment. Grass farming increases profitability helping to keep farms viable and maintains the rural character of our communities.

This project was focused on educating farmers and the farm support community on the reasons for basing livestock production on pasture and forage. Many methods were used to get this message across. We held pasture walks and winter meetings, and a conference each year. In addition we attended other events as an exhibitor. Newsletters were produced 3 times each year. A web site was established and email contact list maintained.

Growing grass in Maine takes advantage of its short growing season and cool, wet climate, which is more advantageous for sod than cultivated crops. Keeping land in sod reduces soil erosion, water runoff, and fresh water contamination from nutrient runoff. Land kept in sod is also an excellent way to retain soil moisture, improve soil health (both nutrients and soil life), builds organic matter either as permanent pasture or as part of a crop rotation and contributes to carbon sequestration. Grass farming and pasture raised livestock utilize our pasturelands effectively, while improving animal health, product quality and market advantage. Pasture raised milk, meat, poultry, and eggs have higher nutritional content, higher market prices, are good for the environment. Grass farming increases profitability helping to keep farms viable and maintains the rural character of our communities.

This project was focused on educating farmers and the farm support community on the reasons for basing livestock production on pasture and forage. Many methods were used to get this message across. We held pasture walks and winter meetings, and a conference each year. In addition we attended other events as an exhibitor. Newsletters were produced 3 times each year. A web site was established and email contact list maintained.

Performance Target:

• Of the 50 Cooperative Extension, USDA, Maine Department of Agriculture, NGO’s, commodity groups, private consultants, producer/leaders, veterinarians, and supporting industries representatives at the workshops held, an active core of 15 professionals will be created to provide technical information and support a network of grass farmers in Maine and will learn about new and emerging farmers and markets including new minority groups, and will keep abreast of new information relevant to grass farmers.

At the conclusion of the grant there were four professionals that have continued on the board. Each of these professionals has a different affiliation. So the information that they get and give on the board is effected by their affiliations. This is expanding the reach of the network. At least six professionals are participating as leaders of pasture walks and speakers at events. In addition, eight producer/leaders are actively involved on the board of directors.

• Of the 600 or more livestock farmers in the state of Maine, 75% will be identified and given access to the MGFN established and supported by these professionals that will last 5 or more years.

The final database that was collected at all the events that MGFN participated in contained 341 people.

• Of the 25 professional educators from Cooperative Extension, USDA/NRCS, Maine Department of Ag, UMO, NGO’s, 10 will use the marketing and production information including enterprise budgets and other practical tools, developed by the network to support grass farmers.

In evaluating the plethora of information available presently, the participants in the grant decided to collect a resource list rather than creating more fact sheets. This list is available on the web site and will be continually updated as more information is found.

The newsletter that was written as a result of the grant, and will be continued to be written by the network, contains many practical articles, information from talks that have been attended and results from recent research. It has been sent to the members and is available on the web site along with archived editions.

• The performance targets will be met when the Maine Grass Farmers Network emerges as a self-sustaining group and there is an increase of 20 new grass farmers in Maine.

In January 08, MGFN started its board of directors with eight enthusiastic farmers. Three UMCE educators, an NRCS resource conservationist and MOFGA’s livestock specialist also participate on the board conference calls.

Performance Targets
• Of the 50 Cooperative Extension, USDA, Maine Department of Agriculture, NGO’s, commodity groups, private consultants, producer/leaders, veterinarians, and supporting industries representatives at the workshops held, an active core of 15 professionals will be created to provide technical information and support a network of grass farmers in Maine and will learn about new and emerging farmers and markets including new minority groups, and will keep abreast of new information relevant to grass farmers.
At the conclusion of the grant there were four professionals that have continued on the board. Each of these professionals has a different affiliation; Cooperative Extension, NRCS and MOFGA are represented. The information that they get and give on the board is effected by their affiliations. This is expanding the reach of the network. At least six professionals continue to participate as leaders of pasture walks and speakers at events. In addition eight producer/leaders are actively involved on the board of directors.

• Of the 600 or more livestock farmers in the state of Maine, 75% will be identified and given access to the MGFN established and supported by these professionals that will last 5 or more years.
The final database that was collected at all the events that MGFN participated in contained 341 people.

• Of the 25 professional educators from Cooperative Extension, USDA/NRCS, Maine Department of Ag, UMO, NGO’s, 10 will use the marketing and production information including enterprise budgets and other practical tools, developed by the network to support grass farmers.
In evaluating the plethora of information available presently, the participants in the grant decided to collect a resource list rather than creating more fact sheets. This list is available on the web site http://www.umaine.edu/umext/mgfn/ and will be continually updated as more information is found.

The newsletters that were written three times each year during the grant will be continued to be written by the network. They contain many practical articles on watering and fencing systems, management methods, seeding ideas, and season extension for example, information from talks that have been attended, North East Pasture Consortium, Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture conference, and results from recent, research cost of production study for organic dairies. The newsletter was sent to the members and is available on the web site along with archived editions.

• The performance targets will be met when the Maine Grass Farmers Network emerges as a self-sustaining group and there is an increase of 20 new grass farmers in Maine.
In January 08, MGFN started its board of directors with eight enthusiastic farmers. Three UMCE educators, an NRCS resource conservationist and MOFGA’s livestock specialist also participate on the board conference calls. One of the farmers on the board is a new grass farmer and we had at least twenty new or interested participants at pasture walks and meetings.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Gabe Clark
  • Rick Kersbergen
  • John O'Donnell
  • Deanna Potter
  • Paula Roberts

Research

Research results and discussion:

Milestones including farm tours/pasture walks, conferences, and attendance at commodity and special interest group meetings were very successful. The conferences were well attended. Attendance at pasture walks varied from one to twenty-five. Times of the year, location, and topic seriously affect participation. Having publicized topics seemed to increase attendance. We tried over the course of the years to offer more and less pasture walks and at different areas of the state to attempt to gather more attendees. In this less was more, if there were many walks, we go less attendance at each one. Professionals were very cooperative in giving time to the implementation of all the events. Interest seems strong. Over-commitment seems to be the problem for getting more assistance and participation.

There were some changes made to the milestones as originally written. We had intended to have,
4 regional workshops will be held in Maine for Cooperative Extension educators, Maine department of Agricultural personal, University faculty and staff, MOFGA and other NGO educators, and other agriculture leaders with members/leaders of the Vermont Grass Farmers Association.

This topic ended up being part of the first conference in 2004. It would have been nearly impossible to have representatives from Vermont speak in 4 places in Maine. We did have good attendance, 120, and many representatives from NRCS and Cooperative Extension. So the information about organizing Vermont’s organization was well disseminated.

The other conferences held each consecutive year were in different parts of Maine in order to reach more people. Until the last two years, when we felt Kennebec Valley Community College was a good facility with a central location. The keynote speakers varied each year. The topics ranged from: animal handling with Temple Grandin, livestock genetics with Ridge Shinn, animal heath and human health resulting from having livestock on pasture with Jerry Brunetti, to pasture management with Darrell Emmick. Each of the conferences had an attendance of approximately 100 except the last one in September of 2007. Comments came back from people that had attended other conferences that it was a bad time to schedule a conference. We had an evaluation form for each conference. The comments were very favorable; attendees liked the all the speakers and the food (we always purchased as much as possible from Maine farmers especially the meat!). Each of the keynotes presented very valuable information. The biggest negative comments were: too hard to decide which talk to attend, too much information too fast, especially with Jerry Brunetti. One talk other than the keynotes that was a highlight was a meat cutting demonstration by Luce’s Meats in North Anson, ME. Everyone attending that session was extremely attentive to the speakers. MGFN is going to include a session on meat cutting at each future conference and vary the species.

The second milestone read, A Grass Farmers directory will be created and maintained by the professional support network, including an email network of producers and educators will be created and housed within Cooperative Extension. At the end of the grant we has accumulated a mailing list of over 300 people. This list will be added to the list that is maintained by Cooperative Extension in University of Maine in Orono and to the list the Maine Department of Ag. has. MGFN will continue to keep the total list to contact with announcements of events and other related topics. The newsletters will only be mailed to paid members, but put on the website after the next newsletter is published.
4-6 farm-based tours per year will be held by producers for educators, was the third milestone. We ended up having many more pasture walks during the season. The topics varied greatly. The major purpose of the pasture walks was to share information about the farm, how they managed their pastures, water and fence systems and other management methods particular to that operation. They were also to give the farmers and any professionals that attended, a chance to get acquainted. The Cooperative Extension educators involved with the project and others in the state were very helpful by attending and giving direction and ideas during the walks. Occasionally we had some participation from NRCS conservationists. It is difficult for them to attend activities that are scheduled at times other than regular business hours.

In additions we had winter meetings each year. There were presentations each year in at least three different places. The first year there were seven meetings. Some had topics relevant to special management done on that farm, calf care or wintering out. Two were billed as an opportunity to meet other farmers and introduce MGFN. These were not well attended. The other years we had presentations on fencing, and pasture layout. The meetings that had a presentation attracted more participation.

The fourth milestone was, Professionals will work with these groups to hold workshops at: MOFGA’s Farmer to Farmer conference, Maine Ag Trade Show, and at annual meeting of these commodity groups Maine Beef Producers Association, Maine Sheep Breeders Association (MSBA), Maine Dairy Association, Maine Alternative Poultry Association (MAPA), New England Livestock Alliance, Maine Organic Milk Producers, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (NODPA) and Maine Cheese makers Guild. We had a good level of participation from UMCE. They made many presentations at these events. We had the best attendance for talks at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show. When it doesn’t snow too hard, the event is in January, many farmers attend this show. We had two presentations at the show each year. UMCE educators and many farmers gave them. Farmer panels on marketing of meat were the most popular topic. That was done two years with different farmers.

Annual conference for producers and educators will be established by these 15 professionals, was the fifth milestone. As described in other sections this has been very successful. We’ve gotten excellent keynotes as were the farmers and professionals who spoke. The only complaint was not being able to attend two talks at one time. We did make all handouts available and had some of the sessions taped by a local technical college. Information about purchasing the tapes was included in the newsletters.

The last two milestones listed below were also performance objectives and were discussed in that section.
Tools to improve competencies for professionals and farmers will be created with topics to include: forage ID, fencing methods, watering systems, pasture management (reclamation, set-up, evaluation), predator control, genetics, marketing options, e.g. Cooperatives.

Maine Grass Farmers Network will be developed and will establish small local study groups and pasture walks.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Web site:
www.umaine.edu/umext/mgfn/

Newsletter:
www.umaine.edu/umext/mgfn/newsletter/Archives/default.htm

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The newly formed membership based organization of Maine Grassfarmers Network speaks to the impact of this project. The Board of Directors have met by conference call monthly and are planning pasture walks, talks at the New England Livestock Expo and this years conference. A newsletter for this year has been distributed. More that 30 people have paid for membership and another mailing is planned to gather more members.

Over the years I have spoken to more than 15 farmers who have adopted new pasture rotations schemes, watering systems and/or planting methods that have been the result of information presented by MGFN.

The 2006 conference was presented in collaboration with the Western Mountain Alliance’s Eat Smart Eat Local Campaign. It had a human nutrition component and attendance was nearly 100 folks. A member of UMCE at the encouragement of MGFN will present a talk on the value of grass-fed livestock products at the New England Livestock Expo.

Farmer Adoption

The first paragraph of the summary discusses the many benefits to the environment, community and farm profitability that result from good pasture and forage management The formation of MGFN that has been initiated by this project will create benefits for the farms involved and their surrounding communities.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.